SPOOF. A SAMPLE OF A THOUSAND-GUINEA NOVEL.
I—Spoof. A Thousand-Guinea Novel. New! Fascinating! Perplexing!
Readers are requested to note that this novel has taken our special prize of a cheque for a thousand guineas. This alone guarantees for all intelligent readers a palpitating interest in every line of it. Among the thousands of MSS. which reached us—many of them coming in carts early in the morning, and moving in a dense phalanx, indistinguishable from the Covent Garden Market waggons; others pouring down our coal-chute during the working hours of the day; and others again being slipped surreptitiously into our letter-box by pale, timid girls, scarcely more than children, after nightfall (in fact many of them came in their night-gowns),—this manuscript alone was the sole one—in fact the only one—to receive the prize of a cheque of a thousand guineas. To other competitors we may have given, inadvertently perhaps, a bag of sovereigns or a string of pearls, but to this story alone is awarded the first prize by the unanimous decision of our judges.
When we say that the latter body included two members of the Cabinet, two Lords of the Admiralty, and two bishops, with power in case of dispute to send all the MSS. to the Czar of Russia, our readers will breathe a sigh of relief to learn that the decision was instant and unanimous. Each one of them, in reply to our telegram, answered immediately SPOOF.
This novel represents the last word in up-to-date fiction. It is well known that the modern novel has got far beyond the point of mere story-telling. The childish attempt to INTEREST the reader has long since been abandoned by all the best writers. They refuse to do it. The modern novel must convey a message, or else it must paint a picture, or remove a veil, or open a new chapter in human psychology. Otherwise it is no good. SPOOF does all of these things. The reader rises from its perusal perplexed, troubled, and yet so filled with information that rising itself is a difficulty.
We cannot, for obvious reasons, insert the whole of the first chapter. But the portion here presented was praised by The Saturday Afternoon Review as giving one of the most graphic and at the same time realistic pictures of America ever written in fiction.
Of the characters whom our readers are to imagine seated on the deck—on one of the many decks (all connected by elevators)—of the Gloritania, one word may be said. Vere de Lancy is (as the reviewers have under oath declared) a typical young Englishman of the upper class. He is nephew to the Duke of—, but of this fact no one on the ship, except the captain, the purser, the steward, and the passengers are, or is, aware.
In order entirely to conceal his identity, Vere de Lancy is travelling under the assumed name of Lancy de Vere. In order the better to hide the object of his journey, Lancy de Vere (as we shall now call him, though our readers will be able at any moment to turn his name backwards) has given it to be understood that he is travelling merely as a gentleman anxious to see America. This naturally baffles all those in contact with him.
The girl at his side—but perhaps we may best let her speak for herself.
Somehow as they sat together on the deck of the great steamer in the afterglow of the sunken sun, listening to the throbbing of the propeller (a rare sound which neither of them of course had ever heard before), de Vere felt that he must speak to her. Something of the mystery of the girl fascinated him. What was she doing here alone with no one but her mother and her maid, on the bosom of the Atlantic? Why was she here? Why was she not somewhere else? The thing puzzled, perplexed him. It would not let him alone. It fastened upon his brain. Somehow he felt that if he tried to drive it away, it might nip him in the ankle.
In the end he spoke.
“And you, too,” he said, leaning over her deck-chair, “are going to America?”
He had suspected this ever since the boat left Liverpool. Now at length he framed his growing conviction into words.
“Yes,” she assented, and then timidly, “it is 3,213 miles wide, is it not?”
“Yes,” he said, “and 1,781 miles deep! It reaches from the forty-ninth parallel to the Gulf of Mexico.”
“Oh,” cried the girl, “what a vivid picture! I seem to see it.”
“Its major axis,” he went on, his voice sinking almost to a caress, “is formed by the Rocky Mountains, which are practically a prolongation of the Cordilleran Range. It is drained,” he continued——
“How splendid!” said the girl.
“Yes, is it not? It is drained by the Mississippi, by the St. Lawrence, and—dare I say it?—by the Upper Colorado.”
Somehow his hand had found hers in the half gloaming, but she did not check him.
“Go on,” she said very simply; “I think I ought to hear it.”
“The great central plain of the interior,” he continued, “is formed by a vast alluvial deposit carried down as silt by the Mississippi. East of this the range of the Alleghenies, nowhere more than eight thousand feet in height, forms a secondary or subordinate axis from which the watershed falls to the Atlantic.”
He was speaking very quietly but earnestly. No man had ever spoken to her like this before.
“What a wonderful picture!” she murmured half to herself, half aloud, and half not aloud and half not to herself.
“Through the whole of it,” de Vere went on, “there run railways, most of them from east to west, though a few run from west to east. The Pennsylvania system alone has twenty-one thousand miles of track.”
“Twenty-one thousand miles,” she repeated; already she felt her will strangely subordinate to his.
He was holding her hand firmly clasped in his and looking into her face.
“Dare I tell you,” he whispered, “how many employees it has?”
“Yes,” she gasped, unable to resist.
“A hundred and fourteen thousand,” he said.
There was silence. They were both thinking. Presently she spoke, timidly.
“Are there any cities there?”
“Cities!” he said enthusiastically, “ah, yes! let me try to give you a word-picture of them. Vast cities—with tall buildings, reaching to the very sky. Why, for instance, the new Woolworth Building in New York——”
“Yes, yes,” she broke in quickly, “how high is it?”
“Seven hundred and fifty feet.”
The girl turned and faced him.
“Don’t,” she said. “I can’t bear it. Some other time, perhaps, but not now.”
She had risen and was gathering up her wraps. “And you,” she said, “why are you going to America?”
“Why?” he answered. “Because I want to see, to know, to learn. And when I have learned and seen and known, I want other people to see and to learn and to know. I want to write it all down, all the vast palpitating picture of it. Ah! if I only could—I want to see” (and here he passed his hand through his hair as if trying to remember) “something of the relations of labour and capital, of the extraordinary development of industrial machinery, of the new and intricate organisation of corporation finance, and in particular I want to try to analyse—no one has ever done it yet—the men who guide and drive it all. I want to set down the psychology of the multimillionaire!”
He paused. The girl stood irresolute. She was thinking (apparently, for if not, why stand there?).
“Perhaps,” she faltered, “I could help you.”
“Yes, I might.” She hesitated. “I—I—come from America.”
“You!” said de Vere in astonishment. “With a face and voice like yours! It is impossible!”
The boldness of the compliment held her speechless for a moment.
“I do,” she said; “my people lived just outside of Cohoes.”
“They couldn’t have,” he said passionately.
“I shouldn’t speak to you like this,” the girl went on, “but it’s because I feel from what you have said that you know and love America. And I think I can help you.”
“You mean,” he said, divining her idea, “that you can help me to meet a multimillionaire?”
“Yes,” she answered, still hesitating.
“You know one?”
“Yes,” still hesitating, “I know one.”
She seemed about to say more, her lips had already opened, when suddenly the dull raucous blast of the foghorn (they used a raucous one on this ship on purpose) cut the night air. Wet fog rolled in about them, wetting everything.
The girl shivered.
“I must go,” she said; “good night.”
For a moment de Vere was about to detain her. The wild thought leaped to his mind to ask her her name or at least her mother’s. With a powerful effort he checked himself.
“Good night,” he said.
She was gone.